Four Jewish day schools of Greater MetroWest will have their tuition capped at 18 percent or less of a family’s Adjusted Gross Income for qualified middle income families, regardless of the number of children in the family.
This affordability initiative is part of a new 10-year program, known as “Vision 2025,” funded with a $10 million grant from the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community of Greater MetroWest NJ. It makes Greater MetroWest one of the first in the nation to guarantee tuition breaks across an entire community in a coordinated effort.
In a recent interview with RAVSAK, Paula Gottesman shared why she started working on easing the burden of middle income families. “The day schools had scholarships for families who couldn’t afford to pay much, and the wealthy could, of course, afford to pay full tuition. There was a big group in the middle that was not ‘needy,’ but day school education was just not within their budgets. These were families, making about $75,000 to $100,000 in salaries, but tuition for several children was too much of a burden,” she said.
“There has been an incredible amount of work that has gone into this, but no matter how much work it is, when a family stops you and says they would not be in day school without this program, it make it all well worth it,” said Kim Hirsh, Director of Philanthropic Initiatives at Greater MetroWest.
The four Jewish day schools in the program are: The Golda Och Academy in West Orange, the Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph, the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
“The Greater MetroWest community was one of the first in the nation to try to tackle the middle income affordability challenge with the original Gottesman Foundation ‘Tuition Subvention’ program at the then-Hebrew Academy of Morris County,” said Hirsh, who is one of the program’s architects. That program began in 1998, and “In 2007, our community launched a major $50 million campaign to build endowments for affordability and excellence. With this new gift, we have now raised more than $80 million in endowments and long-term investments in affordability and excellence,” Hirsh told JLNJ.
“This program draws on all that we have learned from 1998, plus research our committee did last fall on about 20 schools and community programs. We found that the most successful ones had built on our own model (targeted grants for middle income families), and added the elements of predictability, transparency and sustainability. That’s what we have developed here,” Hirsh said.
“Paula (Gottesman), in her unique way—she just did it, she didn’t do a study. She said ‘let me see what happens,’” said Hirsh. Gottesman’s interest in addressing middle income affordability initiative was warmly received and her approach was enthusiastically embraced by fellow donors. The Gottesmans have inspired others to follow their lead, both in the MetroWest community and elsewhere.
“We need to help in the middle or we will lose them,” Hirsh said. “The Gottesmans were ahead of many others in focusing on middle income families to promote affordability, ahead of other day schools that are now doing this, and ahead even of private universities, who have now developed similar types of tuition-assistance programs.”
The MetroWest community has been working on tuition affordability, in one way or another, for the past 17 years. They have reached out to other communities and learned from them, and they continue to be humble enough to make more changes if necessary. “We now have an excellent program; we may find ways to improve it in the years ahead, but the basic structure is right on the money,” said Hirsh.
Hirsh also added that there are many more families than the Gottesmans involved, who have helped Vision 2025 become a reality.
One of those many people is Steve Levy, who retired from Wall Street 10 years ago. He spends one third of his time sitting on the boards of public companies, one third of his time on volunteer work and the remaining one third with his grandchildren. He and his wife were founding donors to the MetroWest Day School Community Fund, and he became vice chairman of the Community Day School Council, which was set up in 2007.
Levy explained that the initial campaign started off with a goal of raising $50 million for the three day schools. Back then, the initiative focused on the Hebrew Academy of Morris County (now the Gottesman RTW Academy), Solomon Schechter of Essex and Union (now Golda Och Academy), and Kushner. In December of 2014, JEC was added, encompassing their lower schools and two high schools. The first funding was in 2007. “We worked on setting up endowment funds at each of the three schools, and a single community endowment fund, all dedicated to academic excellence and affordability,” he said.
At the time, only the Hebrew Academy had a middle income scholarship program, so the group worked on the establishment of the same type of program at the other schools. In 2007, it was an eight-year commitment, and the eight years were up in June.
“Last year, the Day School Council asked a small committee to look into assessing what we had been doing, what we should continue to do, and what should change. What resulted from this effort is the Vision 2025 initiative,” said Levy.
What’s so special about this particular program, one might ask?
“It recognizes that there’s no single silver bullet to sustaining Jewish day schools. We need to continue with our investments in academic excellence and, in particular, the professional development of our teaching staff, and we needed to increase our efforts in affordability,” Levy said.
“When you look at Vision 2025 and the ten-year program, $150,000 per year is going to toward professional development. We have more than doubled the annual funding for affordability, with a heavy emphasis on turbo charging the middle income programs. And you cannot back off on regular scholarship programs, either,” he added.
The end goal on this, according to Levy, is sustainability. “We are putting the resources in place, Judaically, academically and financially, to build strong schools and a strong community,” Levy said.
In addition to the tuition cap, the Vision 2025 grant includes new family incentives, professional development for teachers, and marketing to entice new families to join the community.
“We are thrilled that the Gottesman family, which has pioneered middle income affordability, not just in our community but for the whole nation, is now making this historic investment to ensure that everyone in our community has access to our outstanding day schools,” said Daniel Staffenberg, Executive Director of the JCF of Greater MetroWest.